The good, the bad and the bugly

"On a subject not so close to my heart..."

by Laurie Cohen

f you are new to the outdoors and perhaps a convert from practicing regular chemical genocide of any creature smaller than your hand, you will be amazed at the fauna an un-poisoned organic garden can attract. One of the most interesting things about organic gardening is becoming acquainted with the diversity of bug life found in the typical backyard. The good, the bad and the truly beneficial bug are all part of the natural processes of nature, and learning to identify them means getting close enough to see their little legs, wings or markings. For the uninitiated, this can be done with extra long tweezers and gloves. After a while, you may not even think twice about hand-picking insects off your plants.

Try growing anything that flowers and you'll double your fun by attracting insects that pollinate and feed on nectar. Aside from the bee, butterfly, wasp or moth, there's always some no-name insect buzzing around, looking for food (your plants) or a place to lay hundreds of eggs (your plants) to hatch and feed on your plants.

To conserve moisture in the soil, put some mulch down and be prepared for the onslaught of a variety of bugs who's only real purpose on earth is to eat every young thing you try to sprout in your garden. Keep an eye on the tender new growth because it has potential to become a midnight snack for marauding pill bugs and earwigs who hide in the mulch during daylight hours. You may have "no-see-ums;" the ever-evasive insects that makes you want to tear up your vegetables and swear that you'll only grow cactus from now on. Or you may catch the strangest looking bug that you've ever seen in your whole life and be ready to take it to the zoo for identification.

These pests have been around for a very long time and really do have a place in nature. Some are part of the food chain, as birds will land and eat them. Others become hosts for the larva of beneficial insects, like the harmless braconid wasp, who lays eggs on the pesky caterpillar, making sure her offspring will have a source of food after they hatch.. Some eat dead, decaying matter and turn it into the a form of compost for the soil. You just have to realize that their presence is not harmful, and there are ways to discourage them from choosing your garden as home base.

Organic gardeners are painfully aware of pests in the garden. There are some of us who actually grow extra plants for the bugs to have as their own. We can set up barriers to marauding insects as good as any WWII fortification. Netting a tree or using row covers for our young plants to provide them extra protection is easy to do. Helping snails and slugs commit suicide in a beer bug bath brings joy to our lives. It's a jungle out there and we know it!

There are many biologic controls available to the home gardener. Some need to be ordered through catalogs and some are available on nursery shelves. Science and technology have combined their efforts to manufacture safe and effective "bugs" to combat some of the most annoying and destructive pests. Integrated Pest Management has been implemented on many farms instead of the timely spraying of pesticides. IPM is a step in the right direction towards growing healthier food. Healthier soil equals healthier food equals healthier people, and a better world for us and our children..

The best advice for any gardener who may have an abundance of uninvited insects is to be a regular presence in your garden. Try going out early in the morning when most chewing insects are finishing up a nightly feast and scoop them all up into a bucket. Moths and butterflies can be deterred by row covers. Take the time to look at your plants and give them a grooming every now and then. They'll love you for it!

Laurie teaches free organic gardening classes from her Clairemont backyard. She is also forming the Clairemont Organic Gardener's Club. To learn more, call her at 270-1490, or e-mail her at